SANTA BARBARA — The Reagan Administration has warned Libya that it is prepared to take direct military action, including bombing raids, if Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi resumes his terrorist campaign, Administration officials said Monday.
"We are prepared to strike directly against Libya, if necessary," the senior official said. The official also confirmed essential details of a report in Monday's Wall Street Journal describing U.S. military planning and covert action against Libya.
A senior official in Washington said, however, that the main purpose of U.S. activities is "to warn elements of the Libyan leadership that their country will pay a price if Kadafi engages in new episodes of adventurism."
Some Administration officials said it has been explicit U.S. policy since the U.S. bombing raid against Libya on April 15 that further terrorist acts by Kadafi will bring a U.S. response. In this sense, the new warning to Kadafi reiterates an old policy rather than stating a new one.
Called 'Mentally Unstable'
The senior official said Kadafi is "mentally unstable" and apparently planning new attacks on U.S. targets in Europe and the Middle East.
Without directly confirming it, White House spokesman Larry Speakes alluded to a U.S. strategy of encouraging internal Libyan opposition by telling reporters Monday that Kadafi has "internal problems."
U.S. military leaders took a less alarmist view about Kadafi's alleged planning of new terrorist activity and sounded less bellicose than White House officials when discussing possible new U.S. attacks against Libya.
"Somebody seems to be whipping things up," one military source said .
"There's a disinformation campaign under way," said another source in asserting that some of the tough talk is designed not only to scare Kadafi into inactivity on the terrorist front but also to encourage his Libyan opponents, particular military professionals, to topple him.
Coup Plot Possible
French intelligence officials are reporting that a coup against Kadafi is possible soon, U.S. sources said.
The Soviets, who have provided Libya with anti-aircraft missiles and other military equipment, have been informed through diplomatic channels of U.S. intentions, according to high-level Administration sources.
As of Sunday, Libyan forces had made no attempt to respond as the aircraft carrier Forrestal and two escorting warships passed Libya on the way to waters off Egypt to conduct joint military exercises with the Egyptian air force, Defense Department officials said.
Speakes said Monday that the Administration is prepared to respond to any new incidents of Libyan terrorism.
"We do watch Kadafi's activities very, very closely, and we're keeping a close eye on what Kadafi is doing and what he may be planning," Speakes said. "Our policy toward Libyan-backed terrorism is unequivocal and unchanged. We will employ all appropriate means to cause Libya to cease its terrorist policies."
Speakes, who declined to comment on Kadafi's condition or state of mind, said the Libyans retain a "capability" for conducting terrorist actions.
President Reagan justified the April bombing raid, which partially destroyed Kadafi's headquarters, as retaliation for the terrorist bombing of 11 days earlier of a West Berlin discotheque in which two American servicemen and a Turkish woman were killed. Reagan said then that the United States also had evidence that Libya was planning other, similar attacks.